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Less Pollution, More Revenue from Water Plant Upgrade

by Katie Pyzyk | January 27, 2012 at 2:30 pm | 3,185 views | 58 Comments

The massive upgrade of Arlington’s Water Pollution Control Plant, which is almost finished, is apparently already causing environmental benefits in the Chesapeake Bay. Plus, it has created a new source of revenue for the County.

Tests show the $568 million expansion and modernization of the WPCP has reduced the amount of harmful nitrogen it deposits into the Chesapeake Bay. That means the County will receive tradable credits that can be sold through the state’s Nutrient Credit Exchange Program. Earlier this week, the County Board voted to participate in the program, and also approved Arlington’s membership in the Virginia Nutrient Credit Exchange Association.

“The County has made a huge investment in expanding and upgrading the Water Pollution Control Plant, and it is great to see that – even before the upgrade is completed – the effort is producing significant benefits for the Bay and creating a new source of revenue for Arlington,” said County Board Chair Mary Hynes. “This expansion is proving to be a worthwhile investment for our County and the region.”

The County could receive between $22,000 and $410,000 each year for its utility fund by participating in the exchange. Because it’s a new member, Arlington would have to wait the required three to five years before receiving money for its credits. There is an annual membership fee of $3,125 for the program.

The WPCP treats 30 million gallons of wastewater each day. Most of its renovations are slated to be finished this summer. A refurbishment of the fence around the facility will start this spring and end in the fall.

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  • novasteve

    Any chance my tap water going to stop stinking? I would like to brush my teeth without vomiting eventually.

    • CrystalMikey

      That maybe your building/house? I lived in Crystal City and now Court House and have been able to drink straight from the tap at both places.

    • MC 703

      Steve – Did your water stink for the first time this past fall? I’ve been living near Shirlington for 2 years and it has now happened three times since I think it was October. Never encountered it before in my 5 years of living in SOARL.

      • novasteve

        I think it’s been about a year now that it has stank.

    • Village Geniue

      This article concerns WASTEwater, not drinking water. Novasteve’s post is not germane.

      And, buy a filter. Our drinking water comes from the Potomac River that contains everything dumped upstream.

      • Village Genius

        Friday evening & I cannot type my own name.

      • Josh S

        Which is not to say it isn’t treated before it’s delivered to your home. It is.

    • MC

      I agree, the water does sometimes have a bad odor. I’m sure it is safe, but it can smell for those of us who care about such matters. My guess is that either the Corps of Engineers in DC isn’t treating it well, or the County is flushing delivery pipes with something not so pleasant.

    • North&South

      novasteve, your tap water has nothing to do whatsover with this WASTEWATER TREATMENT plant. They take wastewater clean it up and discharge to four mile run. Your tap water comes from The Washington Aqueduct, which is a DRINKING WATER facility.

      • drax

        Maybe steve drinks from the toilet.

    • truth be told

      This is a wastewater plant, treating your toilet water and has nothing to do with your tap water.

  • Burger

    So we spent 568 million dollars that will generate at 400K in savings. Gee it will only take 1,385 years for the savings to pay for the expansion.

    I’ll concede there were additional needs for the expansion but touting that type of “revenue” is absurd.

    • SoMuchForSubtlety

      ^ meh

    • AllenB

      At least you concede they weren’t doing the plant redo for the savings… that makes your ROI a pointless exercise.

      But what is wrong with saying that such a massive project is having the intended results and a few extra bucks in the County’s coffers?

      I guess, to some, it’s not news unless it’s bad news.

      • Done and Done

        “and a few extra bucks in the County’s coffers” – where do the extra bucks come from? Burger’s estimate of 1,385 years doesn’t include the interest we pay on the money to finance the $568 million – likely a wash with the savings from this program, nor the $3125 annual fee for the program.

        So it’s actually 1,399 years to have it pay for itself (because we have to wait at least three years to begin receiving money for credits, and that is if we receive maximum credit each year). Now, how many times will we have to replace the water mains and sewer infrastructure that makes this plant work in the first place during that time? Or replace the entire plant?

        I don’t discount the need to reduce nitrogen into the bay – but the costs certainly don’t seem to equate to the benefits – at least not enough for the county to claim it as a source of revenue.

        • AllenB

          Um… the project wasn’t done to save money. There were other reasons. So now to make up an ROI based on one number is just plain silly.

        • drax

          You have to, like, subtract the “keeping crap out of our water” part first, and then do your math.

        • esmith69

          You say you “don’t discount the need to reduce nitrogen into the bay”, so why are you so critical of the monetary costs with achieving that goal.

          Certainly you must realize that that kind of thing requires money, right?

          The article never claimed that the plant’s redo will pay for itself–they just like to higlight those kind of statistics to try and appease the tea-party types who are opposed to spending any kind of money at all.

        • Josh S

          The assumptions inherent in this kind of analysis are just remarkably narrow-minded. Perhaps you’d prefer to have Four Mile Run and portions of the Potomac River downstream be a fetid, stinking mess? Would this be worth a few more dollars in your pocket?

          • SoMuchForIgnorance

            They were not a “fetid, stinking mess” before these improvements, so your point is rendered meaningless by extreme hyperbole. That’s an Internet Hyperbole violation, 30 minute time-out for you.

          • Josh S

            That did make me smile.

            But, no, it’s not rendered “meaningless.”

            Perhaps easier to ignore.

            But the point is the same – Done and Done seemed to be arguing against the existence of water pollution control measures. I was pointing out that the absense of water pollution control measures would have dramatically negative results in nearby water quality.

      • Burger

        Actually, this doesn’t include the increase in fees charged to residents. Not sure about you but my water bill has doubled in the last 4 years.

        • SoMuchForIgnorance

          Increased Revenue!

        • Josh S

          And?

    • MC 703

      I hope I can still fish the outflows.

    • Michael H.

      And that’s why the government builds these things, not the private sector. Sewer systems, police and fire departments, roads and schools don’t “make money”. But most people seem to think they are good to have in a civilized society.

      But just to go on the ROI line of thought, I’d say that the prevention of disease by having clean water saves quite a bit of money. It allows the rest of the economy to function because people aren’t all sick from cesspools outside of their houses. I think the ROI is pretty good.

    • truth be told

      More than likely the upgrades are in response to mandates dictated by regulation, or expected regulation. If the plant does not take action to meet these laws then fines would be imposed and eventually somebody would be arrested. If you don’t like the money being spent on the upgrades, look to the environmental regulations.

      • Josh S

        Well, if you did, hopefully then there would also be a consideration of the benefits that accrue to society as a result of those regulations.

        • truth be told

          Josh, I agree. There are benefits to society from environmental regulation. History shows that. However, there are also burdens to society from excessive environmental regulation. I make no judgement here on mandates in place that may cause this plant upgrade. I’m just pointing out that they likely exist.

          • Josh S

            Fair enough.

            I wonder whether arrests would ever result. This has often been pointed out as a weakness in many regulations, not just environmental. Especially when the legal entity that must comply is a corporation. You can’t put a corporation in jail. Which substantially reduces the CEO’s reason to care…..

          • TCE

            … but if a corporation is going to be considered a ‘person’ by certain parties… then perhaps we should find a way to put them in jail… ;)

          • speonjosh

            And Mitt’s comments just highlight what has legally been the case for decades. Even the Citizen’s United case did not change that or create anything particularly new in terms of how the law has viewed corporations for a long time. They are allowed to sue. They are given due process rights. They are allowed to enter in to and enforce contracts. They are allowed to buy and sell other entities. Etc.

            I’m glad his comments raised awareness of the issue. But I’m afraid that most people are content to simply laugh it off and forget about it.

    • Josh S

      It’s not absurd in the least since revenue was not the purpose of the upgrade.

      Human and environmental health were the reason.

      The revenue is an ancillary benefit and proof that a) the upgrades worked, and b) that the idea of having a credit trading system is a good one.

      • Quoth the Raven

        Regardless of possible revenue, I can’t see how upgrading the system could ever be considered as anything but a huge societal benefit. Not to state the obvious, but less pollution is good for everyone.

        If you’re stuck on revenue, consider this – if less pollution is put into the bay, there will be more fish, more crabs, more shellfish, etc. In other words, there are indirect revenue benefits above and beyond the credit trading.

  • Arlington MDMA

    This plant could use a really pretty art sculpture. Maybe a trellis and a painting…

    • truth be told

      Artispoop!

  • Greg

    It’s not a lot of money. The County could consider not trading away its credits to another polluter.

    It’s kind of like blood money, isn’t it.

    • Village Geniue

      I had the same thought at first about not trading the credits.

      Listening to the County Board explain the reasons to join the exchange program, however, revealed that if Arlington did not join the exchange, Arlington’s credits would still be available for others to use and Arlington would get no money. Thus, the choice was not “trade” or “not trade”, but instead was reap money or not reap money. Better to capture some money.

      • Greg

        Thanks. That makes sense (although it seems like kind of a dumb way to manage the exchange).

        • Josh S

          Actually, it’s exactly how you manage such an exchange. The exchange wouldn’t work otherwise.

          The point is that entities that are able and willing to reduce their nutrient load (read: pollution) into the Bay do so and those other entities that are not able or willing (or have higher costs to do so) then buy the credits in order to avoid fines / penalities for not reducing their nutrient load.

          In other words, if you earn the credits, they do you no good unless you sell them.

          The same sort of system has been going on nationwide for air pollutants like sulfur oxides for many years now. By all accounts, it works well. The total pollution is reduced at the lowest cost overall.

          A similar exchange has been talked about for carbon dioxide releases into the atmosphere. Because of opposition from some very powerful industries (oil), and much fear-mongering that it would lead to dramatically higher prices for consumers, it has not yet been implemented.

          • Greg

            Not really what I’m talking about.

            If you earn credits for reducing pollution, why should you not be able to take the credits off the market? Let the polluters be fined if they are unable to find enough credits through the market.

          • speonjosh

            Another wrinkle. And yes, that would be one way of doing it – gradually reducing the number of credits available to the market as a whole. I guess you’d do that if your goal is to gradually reduce the total emissions to zero or some level even lower than what you are willing to tolerate now.

            I wonder about allowing individual entities to decide to retire the credit. Don’t these credits expire? You’re only earning credit for what you have done this year aren’t you? So there would really be no point in not selling your credit.

            Also, if individuals could decide to retire their credits, it sort of ruins the promises made in order to get buy in on the idea in the first place. Other entities are promised that credits will exist if they are not able to make the changes necessary to meet the new standard. If they plan for that, and then the credits aren’t available, that’s sort of unfair, isn’t it? It would be a backhanded way of just setting mandatory standards that everyone had to comply with. And it would allow individual actors to cause that result outside of any sort of deliberative process.

          • Greg

            I could see that last part being a consideration. The political buy-in required would be easier if a certain level of credits is basically guaranteed to be available.

      • david markle

        Thanks for the explanation… I was wondering the same thing.

  • Arlwhenver

    The treated water that’s put back into the Potomac at the mouth of Four Mile Run is way cleaner than the water that was taken out upstream to supply our taps. The tens of billions of dollars that are being invested to upgrade waste water facilities nationwide are a sop to crony capitalist environmental engineering firms and construction companies — environmental regulation gone mad. The real Chesapeake Bay culprit isn’t wastewater plants — its non point source pollution.

    • truth be told

      That depends on your definition of “cleaner”. If you mean the treated wastewater has MORE contaminants such as estrogen, pharmaceuticals, and components of women’s make-up that pass right through a wastewater plant, then NO it is NOT “cleaner”.

      If your definition of “cleaner” is that it contains less minnow piss, then yes it is “cleaner”.

    • Josh S

      Where do you find these scraps – you must do some late night internet trolling…..

      You can bet that most, if not all, environmental regulations are fought tooth and nail by the “crony capitalists.”

      The upgrades are necessary to address the continued water quality problems faced by rivers, lakes, etc around the country. You are absolutely right that much of this is caused by non-point source pollution – runoff from suburban lawns, agricultural land, non-pervious surfaces (roads, parking lots) – but as truth be told mentions, there is plenty still coming from urban wastewater systems. This is in part due to the fact that some non-point sources do flow through the wastewater treatment plant. Given the fact that the Bay remains a far cry from where it was even just a hundred years ago, it makes sense to pursue a multi-pronged strategy.

    • drax

      You realize that DC throws tons of totally untreated sewage into the Potomac each year because of it’s ancient system, right?

      • SoMuchForIgnorance

        its

  • charles

    It’s so easy, like a baby, to ignore the value of protecting the environment while complaining about the cost.

  • janet

    Who are the beneficiaries of the nutrient credit trading? Wealthy companies like Dominion. Downstream counties where the County employees who put the deal together live.

    BTW, Arlington is 70 miles from the Bay.

    • Josh S

      Actually, the beneficiaries are the public and the environment. While a company like Dominion may or may not choose to purchase credits instead of making upgrades to their systems, the fact is that the overall waste load into the Bay goes down, at a cost that is lower, overall, than it would be if every individual point source was required to upgrade.

      Your comment about downstream counties makes no sense whatsoever. I think you’re trying to imply that all of the Arlington county employees involved in upgrading the treatment plant live in, what, Prince William county? Right on the water?

      BTW, Arlington is approx 650 miles from Chicago. So what?

  • julie

    Arlington badly needs an independent Inspector General to audit these deals.

    • Josh S

      Are you implying this was a bad deal? Why? In what way? What evidence makes you think that?

      I agree the county needs an auditor or IG.

  • Barry

    We need new people on the County Board who don’t respond to citizen concerns about these deals by repeatedly stating “This is a great deal…”

    We also need local news media that don’t believe every press release they receive.

    • Josh S

      How should they respond?

      “Yes, you neighborhood resident with no expertise at all in wastewater treatment plants, existing regulations, fluid dynamics, biology, chemistry, finance, etc – we hear your concerns and will hearby implement your vision from now on.”

      “As they relate to ‘these deals.’”

      “Whatever that means.”

      ?

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